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Helping youth reach out

The message that life can be what you make it, and if you are going down the wrong track you can change direction and be as great as you want to be, has been delivered to around 2,500 young Northlanders over the last five weeks in the play, ‘10Ft Tall’, by local company Playworks Productions.

The play toured the region with support from Te Puni Kōkiri and Northland DHB and is the third in a series of resilience-building programmes for taiohi/youth. 10Ft Tall focuses on the harm that ‘P’ and other drugs can do, and follows the character Jesse, who is a rebel and risk taker, as she gets caught up in the drug and runs off the rails.

The story shows a community which is supportive and effective in keeping her safe, with the heroes who support Jesse, modelling the resilience building attributes of being connected, having a sense of purpose and contributing.

Playworks Production’s playwright and director Bryan Divers performs in the play with fellow Northlanders, former Whangarei Girls High student Nevandra Straker, who played ‘Jesse’, Lionel Wellington from Ngunguru and Auckland actor Jacob Dale who relocated North for the tour.

As part of the programme after each show, the cast spent an hour with the audience in workshops discussing how Jesse could have done things differently and worked on strategies they can use to help friends, whānau or themselves if they are in her situation in the future.

Service professionals from Te Ara Oranga; Police, Odyssey House, and Northland DHB supported the cast throughout the tour to help with any issues arising from the themes portrayed in the play. These organisations were able to use the platform to offer their services to youth in the region and engage with them in conversations around “P” and the harm that it can do.

On Friday last week, the cast met to bid farewell for now and share their experiences of the five week tour at One One Six in Whangarei.

Bryan said over the five weeks, thanks to audience reaction, the show became more refined and efficient.

“The audience train you up to a certain extent and as an actor, you listen to them and deliver things in a way that they respond to. Their reaction has been great, and they’ve all participated in the workshops. I realised during the tour that there’s a lot of listening that us more mature people need to do.”

Having younger cast members with big social media profiles resonated with the audience and allowed them to feel connected and open up. Nevandra said that early on in the tour, they noticed a few students might have been going through something and they were able to reach out to them and offer help.

“It was great having all the support people there and being able to talk to these kids and show them that, I’m just like you and I have issues sometimes, but it’s ok, and you can still do great things and be someone that people look up to. There might be bumps in the road, but you’re still on the right track.”


She said the youth told the actors the way they portrayed the issue was really positive, and they appreciated the play didn’t sugar coat anything.

“They were thankful that we were blunt but in a way that it wasn’t damaging, just stating facts and knowing that they are old enough to realise. Plus we gave them options and having the workshops helped it sink in because they were able to talk about the messages in the show.”

Northland DHB Suicide Programme Lead Tania Papali’i said that the play is part of the suicide prevention strategy and meth is one of the known drivers of suicide that they are focusing on, along with family violence, relationships, alcohol, and bullying.

“It has helped reach our taiohi and it has all the aspects of help-seeking behaviour woven into it, so having the support services at each show has been a critical element.”

Detective Sergeant Renee O’Connell who leads the Te Ara oranga Northland Police Meth Harm team says that in the year and a half that Te Ara Oranga has been operating, their focus has been on people 18 years and over, so by supporting this tour, they have had the opportunity to reach an untapped age group.

“At first, I questioned if this age group would be too young for the play, but then when you realise that someone could get passed a pipe at a party when they are 15, 16 or 17. You can’t ignore the topic, or it could be too late.”

She said having members of the Te Ara Oranga team at each show helped send the message to youth that the Police are there to reach out to, not fear. They were also able to connect with other support agencies around the region working with youth that they hadn’t met with previously.

Overall, Detective Sergeant O’Connell said it had been a valuable opportunity for her team to speak with the younger people who they usually don’t get buy-in from during their presentations at Marae and community events.

“The idea was to provide students with opportunities to find out how to seek support, and the actors have done a brilliant job presenting the topics and connecting with the audiences.”

However, she found it surprising how many students didn’t know about the 1737 support line, and it was great to be able to share that with them.

Regent Training Centre was included in the tour, and general manager Jennifer Andrews said the actors managed to reel in their students attention from the first few seconds, and had them enthralled right to the end of the play, which is not an easy task.

She added, “The lively and open conversation that followed the performance was a testament of the productions ability to get across the key messages in a way that resonated with our taiohi, and implored them to seek help for their whānau, friends, and themselves.”

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